Languages of the World: 2.French

Today we are going to learn a little bit more about the French language.

French is a descendant of the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire, as are languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Catalan, Sicilian and Sardinian. It is spoken officially in 29 countries by more than 115 million people and around 275 million speak it as a second language. It is an official language of United Nations, European Union and a large number of international organizations.

French speakers will number approximately 500 million people in 2025 and 650 million people, or approximately seven percent of the world’s population by 2050.

It is the second most common language in Canada, after English, and both are official languages at the federal level.

A majority of the world’s French-speaking population lives in Africa. It is estimated that 115 million African people spread across 31 Francophone African countries can speak French as either a first or a second language. The total French-speaking population is expected to reach 700 million people in 2050.

French was the most important language of diplomacy and international relations from the 17th century to approximately the middle of the 20th century. English has taken over that role since then.

Facts:

  • The French counting system is partially vigesimal: twenty (vingt) is used as a base number in the names of numbers from 60 to 99. The French word for 80 is quatre-vingts, literally “four twenties”, and the word for 75 is soixante-quinze, literally “sixty-fifteen”
  • French is second only to English for the number of countries where it has official status.
  • The number of French speakers has tripled since 1945 largely because most of the former French and Belgian colonies kept French as their language of government, education and science after decolonization.
  • The Agence universitaire de la Francophonie networks 630 French language universities and more than 350 French faculties worldwide, for a total of 120,000 professors and researchers.
  • About a third to a half of basic English words come from French, including pedigree, surf, view, strive, challenge, pride, staunch and war.
  • At the time of the French Revolution, 75% of French citizens did not speak French as a mother tongue. Until the 19th century, French was spoken more widely in Holland and Germany than in some parts of France.
  • The letter ‘w’ appears only in foreign words within the French language.
  • French spelling generally reflects the language as it was spoken four or five centuries ago and is therefore, a poor guide to modern pronunciation.
  • French is the second most commonly-taught second language in the world (after English).
  • One of the longest sentences in literature comes from Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”: 823 words without a period.
  • If you learn French, you’ll have a head start in learning other languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or Catalan

False friends (Faux amis) in French:

  • Sensible means sensitive
  • A deception is a disappointment
  • Journal is a newspaper
  • Actuellement: Sounds like ‘actually’… but it means ‘at the current time’. Actually would be ‘en fait’.
  • Caution in French means a deposit, guarantee or bail, in financial terms.
  • Forcément is equal to necessarily.
  • Réalisation is to complete or accomplish something.
  • La chair is the skin, not something where you can sit down.
  • Le four is not a number, it refers to the oven.
  • Laid is someone ugly.

Here, at the University of Almería, you can find French courses in our “centro de lenguas”.

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Á bientôt !

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